All Content, Blog, GBBO

An Extra Slice of GBBO

Earlier this week, I told you all that I had been invited to make a cake to celebrate the start of the new series of The Great British Bake Off and attend the filming of the very first episode of its companion show, An Extra Slice in its new home on Channel 4. I had been dreading the thought of getting my monster of a cake into Central London and had been so relieved to discover a public car park right by the studios. On the day, my guest (AKA my sister, Steph) and I gingerly drove to the ITV Studios, just off the Southbank, before I performed the herculean task of carrying my cake the short walk to the studio reception. My biceps hurt for days from that tiny walk and so I was most grateful when the studio runners conjured up a trolley for me.

IMG_4488
So near… yet so far…

On arrival, we were taken to a large group dressing room, where we were met by one of the production assistants, Sean and introduced to the other ‘pre-selected’ bakers. I was thrilled to see some familiar faces and also meet some lovely new friends, which made the whole experience a lot less daunting. While we were there, we all shared what we had brought with us and Sean asked some background questions that would help them decide which pieces would make entertaining television. We were all required to taste a bit of our own bake (presumably to prove that we hadn’t set out to poison the show’s guests in protest at the move to Channel 4) and I used this opportunity to grab some of the other bakers’ samples too – a highlight being the most scrumptious apple and cinnamon cupcake with a caramel frosting – yum! We also signed our non-disclosure agreements, legally agreeing that we would not tell anyone what we saw during the day – or during our advance preview of the first episode of The Great British Bake Off series 8 – until after they have aired. Eeek!

After this, we were given a break for lunch and, on our way out to the street, encountered none other than the newest judge herself, Prue Leith! At this, a thought stirred, but more on that in a moment. We continued out to the Southbank, where we found ourselves surrounded by the Urban Southbank festival in full swing and the amazing dancers, performers and musicians certainly made a grabbed-sandwich in the sunshine a more exciting experience. I literally had to be dragged away from the largest book sale I have ever seen!

Back at the studios, we met the executive producer of the show, who told us who would be joining Jo Brand on the panel: the hilarious Roisin Conaty, Richard Osman of Pointless fame and the new judge herself: Prue Leith – ah, that explains why we saw her before! We were then escorted to the set, which hasn’t changed a bit! I was shocked at how big the studio is – it seems much more intimate on screen – and also by the fact that all the baked goods you see dotted around the edges of the set are actually real. I almost wish I’d skipped lunch; I could have filled up right there with the huge selection of baked treats within arm’s reach! It was here that I was also told that the producers had chosen my cake to be one that is discussed on the show AND would be tasted by the panel – *gulp*.

Once we were settled and comfortable, Nick the floor manager gave us a bit of an intro and then it was time for our advance screening of The Great British Bake Off: series 8, episode 1! I won’t go into too much detail here as I’m sure we’ve all discussed it to exhaustion on our preferred social media channels, but I have to say, rather than hating the advert breaks – which for us were merely blank screens – I quite liked the opportunity to discuss the events of the episode so far with my companions and we all agreed that a tea break might actually enhance the experience of the show. I also enjoyed watching it with a big group of like-minded baking fans. The gasps of horror at disasters and admiring ooohs at triumphs felt a lot less silly in a crowd then when it is just me on my own at home! We all belly-laughed a lot, particularly when Noel shoved Kate’s marigold in his mouth and I think it’s safe to say that the tent’s youngest baker Liam was a firm favourite with us in the studio. I can’t wait to see how he gets on in the competition. Steven’s impressive bread-and-sandwich showstopper cake ensured that he was crowned our first star baker, while a series of disasters meant that Peter would be the first baker to leave the tent – and to join us in the studio. The show ended with a round of applause from us all and then it was on to the matter at hand…

At this point, those of us who would be talking to the panel were mic-ed up (a technical term, I am assured) and then it was time for the filming to begin. We were joined by a compere, whose job was to get us all excited and ready to be our audience-best and he, in turn, introduced our host and her panel. What you saw on screen is pretty much the order in which it was filmed, but I didn’t realise just how much extra material gets filmed that is never used! I think we were sat there for almost three hours to make a half-an-hour show! Luckily our compere’s ability to fill gaps between shots with little jokes and snarky comments, coupled with the inimitable Jo Brand’s fantastic wit ensured that there were very few dull moments and the time raced by. In spite of copious note-taking as soon as I got home, much of the experience has become a blur, but I still remember vividly the part when it was time to look at ‘what our audience have been baking at home…’

I was last on the list and so had the benefit of seeing what to expect long before it was my turn. In total, they spoke to eight bakers although of course we didn’t all make it into the final show. There were two ladies (including new friend, Gina) who had both recreated one of our new hosts in cake form – a certain Mr Fielding; another lady who had crafted a grilled cheese sandwich in cake, which was inspired; and a cake disguised as a shepherd’s pie (by my Twitter chum Sarah), although the inclusion of real peas raised a few eyebrows. Then it was time for the cakes that would be tasted and it must be noted that Jo Brand has a seemingly endless supply of dessert plates and forks hidden behind her desk. And the amount of mess she just sweeps onto the floor behind it?! I’m glad it isn’t my job to clean up back there!

First up was an incredible illusion cake of a cheeseboard and I swear it looked so realistic. The panel agreed that the filling was absolutely delicious, although Prue was unhappy about how thick the sugarpaste was. Next up was a lady who had decided to bake cupcakes including the unusual ingredient of broccoli, seemingly purely because it was unusual. The panel weren’t quite so complementary about this one and poor Roisin was unable to swallow her piece. Then it was time for the seventh baker – the one before me and another of my new friends. Leone had made a cactus in a marble plant pot and the panel were unanimous in their praise, all but insisting that she apply for Bake Off series 9.

By now, I was absolutely dreading them tasting my cake – what if they hated it?! I think I quite possibly would have died if Prue Leith had said anything bad about my cake on national television and I was so relieved when Sean grabbed me to whisper that they had decided not to taste mine because they didn’t want to ruin it. If I’m honest, I think the real reason is that they were worried that Roisin wouldn’t be able to lift it (she certainly looked horrified when she realised it was a possibility), but regardless, I think I dodged a bullet there! We still had a jolly good chat about my bake and honestly I couldn’t remember anything of what I said. I was incredibly worried that I would come across as a bumbling nitwit and that was if they had decided to include me, but I did remember two things: Jo Brand telling me that my cake was one of the best things anyone had ever brought along to the show (wow!) and that she would see me join Leone on Bake Off next year (no chance!), so even if my bit had ended up on the cutting room floor, I would have had those memories to treasure forever. Now the show has aired of course, I am vastly relieved that that was not in fact the case and I’m so excited that pretty much all of our conversation made the final cut! How exciting!

Next up, it was time for Peter to join us and he seemed absolutely lovely – completely sweet and unassuming. He had brought along another attempt at his coconut ‘fruity’ cake – albeit with slightly less baking powder this time! I was able to get a good look at it once the filming had finished (although sadly not a taste) and I have to say it looked remarkably professional. It’s a shame that we won’t get to see more from him.

After Peter was presented with his take-home cake, the show wrapped up with some more comedic spots and then, after a couple of reshoots and the trailers that would be shown leading up to the air date, we were done. And awesomely, a showrunner brought my cake on its trolley all the way to my car! Phew!

All in all, it was a really fun day out and I loved being a part of the Bake Off family, even if it was only just for one day. Sean really looked after us all and ensured we knew what was going on at all times, both leading up to the show via phone and email and then on the day in person. The team were also very kind about my cake and seemed genuinely thankful that I had gone to the effort of making it and bringing it along. Like I was doing them a favour?! Madness!

 

I’d definitely recommend going along to a filming if you can and you can find out more about that here.

I hope you enjoyed a glimpse behind the scenes of Extra Slice – if you didn’t manage to catch us on the show live, don’t panic! You can watch it again on catch up over at All 4. We had a bit of a viewing party here, where my guests got a real taste of the Bake Off, enjoying an Apple and Cinnamon signature bake, my chocolate mini roll technical and, of course, my Extra Slice illusion cake – which was thankfully still beautifully moist and delicious almost a week later!

I can’t imagine anyone was able to sleep after all that sugar and I know that my Bake Off experience means I will be on a sugar high for some time to come…!

All Content, GBBO

#BAKEALONGWITHGBBO: Week 1 – Cakes

For the last few years, I have been baking along with The Great British Bake Off and would encourage you to do it too! It probably has had the single biggest impact on my baking than anything else I do, because it has forced me to try things that perhaps I would never even have thought to try otherwise.

The first couple of times I did it, I allowed myself to cherry-pick which challenges I would complete, whether the signature, the technical or the showstopper; however last year, I found myself being repeatedly drawn to the technical challenges – perhaps it was the fear of the unknown…?

As a result, this year I have decided to limit myself to just the technical bakes and for the rest of the series, will be attempting the same bake as the bakers in the tent each week. The rules (that I impose on myself) are that, as before, I will have to follow the same rules (and timings) as the contestants and must post the result regardless of how successful I may or may not have been. *gulp* I hope you enjoy this – probably more than I will!

So, down to business:

Week one in the tent was cake week, which saw the bakers attempt their favourite fruity signature, an ‘illusion cake’ showstopper and most pertinently for this project, a chocolate mini roll technical. The recipe, provided by new judge Prue Leith, caused uproar on social media, with viewers at home left stunned at the inclusion of peppermint in the cream filling. Many of my fellow Twitter bakealongers have advised me that they plan to leave this controversial addition out of their own mini rolls, but in my case rules is rules, so in it must go!

The time allowed for the challenge was two hours and so, with the timer on, I was down to business. Prue’s recipe (which is available here if you wish to have a go yourself) is, in her words, “a bit fiddly” and it advises you to start by preheating the oven and lining your tins with greased greaseproof paper. To do this, I measure the base of my tins and then allow an additional centimetre along the long edges to also line the sides of the tins and an additional 2-3 centimetres along the short edge to give me something to hold when removing the cakes from the tin later. Next, cut out the corners where the folds overlap to avoid these interfering with your cake.

IMG_4570

The recipe itself seems fairly straightforward, although be sure to whip your eggs for long enough to ensure your cake rises (unlike some of the bakers) and make sure that you fold your egg whites in thoroughly to avoid visible white patches within the sponge (ahem).

Even filling the cakes and rolling them up wasn’t too hard and in fact, the only problem I did have with this bake was covering the cakes in chocolate. The specified quantities in Prue’s recipe did not seem to be enough to entirely cover the 12 mini rolls to the point that I was having to scrape the parchment under the cakes back into the bowl to reuse. The chocolate was also rather thick without the addition of either butter or cream, meaning that to ensure even coverage, I had to break out the palette knife, ruining any chance I might have had of nice smooth sides. I also realised that I had managed to run out of piping bags just as I needed one, so lost valuable time in the dying minutes trying to tease the end of a roll of greaseproof paper into a homemade version – is there anything worse than the end of a roll of greaseproof? By now, I had seconds to go, so practically flung the white chocolate onto the rolls with barely a care at all, much like tent baker, Liam – fortunately, I don’t think it shows quite so much in my case.

But troubles aside (get used to those as the weeks progress, the Bake Off team do like to make these challenges as tricky as possible), I was able to make twelve (bare-bottomed) mini-rolls in the time given and I actually quite like the peppermint filling – you may notice that there are only eleven rolls in my photograph. Taste-testing might have happened before I took the picture… oops! While not the best thing I’ve ever produced during a Bake Off challenge, I don’t think I would have come last in the tent.

IMG_4581
TOP TIP: When a bake looks less than perfect, remember you can always artfully arrange your shot to hide the worst of it by layering it with tons of text, your logo and a well-placed ‘blur’ effect.

I’ll be serving them up during my Extra Slice viewing party tomorrow, so I’ll let you know what the masses think of them later.

Episode two sees the bakers (and me) face a biscuit-themed technical challenge and the preview at the end of yesterday’s episode looks like it could be fortune cookies, so look forward to another disaster next week!

Happy Baking!

 

All Content, GBBO

Bake Off is Back!

After sending in my details a while ago, I received an email last week from a production assistant at Love Productions asking if I would like to attend the filming of the first episode of the companion show to The Great British Bake Off, An Extra Slice. The show’s move to Channel 4 and the resultant change in hosting line up has been a hot discussion topic, both among cakers and baking fans alike and so naturally I was intrigued to see how this would play out on screen.

Hosts

I have another post all about our visit to the studio scheduled for Thursday, so look out for that, but in the meantime, I thought I would tell you all about my showstopper bake.

Regular viewers will know that the An Extra Slice audience are encouraged to bring along their own bakes inspired by that week’s episode and the theme of episode one, as in previous years, was cake week, with the bakers in the tent tackling their signature ‘fruity cake’ recipes, a mini-roll technical that offered its own slightly less-than-mini challenges and a spectacular illusion cakes showstopper – cakes that are disguised as something else entirely.

Those of you who have followed my work for some time will know that this final challenge is where my real passion lies and I was delighted to be asked to create my own take on an illusion cake to bring along to the show.

Sat in my cake room last week, looking for inspiration, my eyes fell upon my trusty Kenwood stand mixer. After creating my sewing machine cake in 2015, I had realised how easily the internal structure could be adapted to form the basis of a stand mixer and, as a result, a stand mixer cake had been languishing on my ‘wannado’ list ever since. I realised that the start of the new-look Bake Off was the perfect time to bring it out of mothballs and so I headed off to my local hardware store to buy the required provisions to build the support that would form the basis of my cake.

I started by drawing around the outline of the base, top and spine of my real mixer to get the necessary measurements and then sensibly handed these over to someone infinitely less clumsy than me – I’m lucky enough to have a very handy father-in-law who was able to take my measurements and replicate these into a perfectly formed wooden frame.

IMG_4429

Once I had made this food safe, it was simply a case of loading it up with layers of my signature mud cake, filled and crumb coated with a luxurious milk chocolate ganache.

FullSizeRender (2)

After a final coat of ganache, it was then time to cover the cake with sugarpaste, which is trickier than it sounds on such an awkward shape, and so I panelled this – meaning I covered the cake a panel (or piece) at a time, joining the seams at locations where they would be least detectible. There are cake artists out there who have mastered the art of seamless panelling, but sadly I am not one of them. The final details were also added in sugarpaste and the dial was hand finished with edible marker (available here).

IMG_4478

The bowl was carved from layers of my lemon madeira cake, filled and coated with a lemon-flavoured white chocolate ganache and covered in grey sugarpaste. To achieve the shiny silver finish I used Rolkem’s Super Silver (which I bought here) mixed with a little vodka and airbrushed on – do make sure you clean your airbrush thoroughly though once you have finished to avoid blocking it (I have a separate airbrush purely for dust based colours, just in case). I topped the bowl with ganache and then cut a neat slice into the back and slotted it over the dowel-covered rod to add the bowl to the frame. To disguise the slice, I used yet more ganache to pipe spilt drips, which I repeated around the rest of the bowl.

The cake was added to a hand-crafted wood-effect board and to finish the display, I used cake cut offs to create a bag of flour (filled with ground French meringue) and a block of butter in its wrapper. Finally, I added a spilt egg (an all too familiar sight in my kitchen) using piping gel and a sugarpaste yolk.

IMG_4477

The finished cake weighed an absolute ton and I was dreading the thought of getting it into Central London, so I was relieved to discover there is a public car park right around the corner from the studios – I don’t think either me or the cake would have survived the journey on the train!

FullSizeRender (3)

Don’t forget to come back on Thursday to find out how we got on and make sure you’re watching The British Bake Off: An Extra Slice on Thursday 31st August, on Channel 4 at 9pm to see whether my cake made the cut…